BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN,Political Editor
AS a lecturer in the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, in the mid-70s, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida is reputed to have cultivated a core following of loyalist officers, who Nigerians in the 80s came to know as the IBB boys.
The loyalists, it was claimed, could lay down their lives for their military patron. Gen. Babangida’s lecturing capacity, until now only known to military tactics, may now have crept into the broader terrain of civil politics.
His intervention last Sunday, in the frame of a statement on the state of the nation, could easily be described as a lecture on governance.
Given his confessions in the past, especially during the Olusegun Obasanjo civilian administration that he could not advise the President in the open, the advisory to Jonathan is indeed remarkable.
“It is not my tradition to use public platform to pass on my advice to any incumbent President. My choice of this forum is to allow Nigerians the opportunity to appreciate the challenges that President Jonathan is facing in the light of our current economic downturn and security concerns in the country,” Babangida wrote in the statement released on his behalf by his media aide, Prince Kassim Afegbua.
However, beyond his assertion, many political observers would see the open lecture as another reflection of the distance between the incumbent President and the one-time military President.
The gulf between both men it is believed arose from their tussle for the presidential ticket of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which Jonathan won. Babangida had thrown his hat into the ring in one last bid to possibly correct what some regard as the mistakes he made during his leadership of the country between 1985 and 1993 when he stepped aside.
In the course of his presidential bid, Babangida was known to have drawn back from some of his well known nationalist ideas such as abolition of federal character as he took sojourn with the zoning proponents. His loss to erstwhile Vice-President Atiku Abubakar in the straw poll among the Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF was a shocker, but Babangida took the loss with equanimity despite allegations of a fast one that may have been pulled by Atiku.
Suggestions that he would team up with Jonathan after the presidential primaries did not materialise as he stuck to his political nest.
Although, he was one of the first northern PDP presidential aspirant to congratulate Jonathan when he won the polls, he has intermittently come out with statements to justify the positions he maintained during the zoning controversy.
On May 15, 2011, he noted with irony that “politicians and those in leadership positions are presently calling for Zoning and that it must be respected when the same Nigerians and leaders rubbished and jettisoned the move during the call for it by the Mallam Adamu Ciroma-led Northern Political Leaders Forum.”
Again, when Speaker Aminu Tambuwal defied the zoning the House leadership contest last month, Babangida described it as the “Triumph of Reason.”
“From my retirement abode, I feel excited about the bold and courageous step taken by the National Assembly (Upper and Lower houses) through a show of independence for electing their leaderships; Senator David Mark as Senate President for continuity of robust Senate policies and Hon. Aminu Waziri-Tambuwal as Honourable Speaker.
The Lower House must be commended for putting the Federal Constitution above partisan interest in the election of the Honourable Speaker, putting to an end, month-long scheming and manipulation,” Babangida said.
The nuances in the tone of the former leader in the opinion of some may betray some bitterness over the way he was treated by the PDP leadership ahead of the presidential primaries. That inclination is further conveyed by his absence at some of the party and state occasions that he would ordinarily have attended in his position as a former leader or leading figure in the PDP.
His latest remarks shorn of political nuances are, however, revealing. The statement was apparently stoked by the weekend arrest of erstwhile Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.
In it, Babangida urges President Jonathan to shed sentiments and imbibe statesmanlike traits in his handling of the increasing challenges before his government.
He names the challenges to include the economy, minimum wage crisis, arrests, petroleum subsidy debate, crisis over ministerial nominees, Islamic Banking, among other issues.
While noting that “Nigerians truly need positive governance, which I think we should work for rather than dissipate energies on frivolous issues that would not lead us any where,” Babangida advises the President to increase his level of tolerance for the opposition, stressing that he must as a leader cross bridges to engage those who may not necessarily agree with him on issues.
Undoubtedly, many would, taunt Babangida on the fact that his own testimonial would not have been any better.